Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors

Breakups are a bitch, in case you didn’t know. Which is a rather flippant way to state an obvious truth that all of us (at least those of us dumb enough to fall in love) (which is to say, all of us) know all too well. Breakups are the absolute worst. I’ve been ditched, dumped, deserted and denied so many times in the last dozen or so years, I feel as though my heart’s beyond repair. You try to numb yourself. You try to shrug it off, laugh about it, cry about it. You try to forget it. You try to fake it. You try to bury it. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t help. It’s still there. You’re still crushed.

Maybe if I had a kickass rock band in which I could scream it all out at the top of my heaving lungs, it would help ease that lingering pain. But what if the love of my life is also in the band, only all of a sudden she’s no longer the love of my life?  I’ve never been able to comprehend how bands with couples in them are able to stay together when the couple splits up, especially when all the new songs inevitably have to chronicle said breakup in uncomfortably naked detail. I just don’t think I could do that, but obviously some people are more emotionally mature than I am, or something, because it seems to happen all the time. And, granted, it can make for some deeply affecting records.

So yeah, this is a breakup record, and it was an inter-band breakup, and now the band plays on. I’m not going to go into the details, but you can probably figure it out.

Royal Thunder have a terrific knack for starting their albums out just right, and sure enough, side one song one of Crooked Doors, “Time Machine,” is downright tremendous. More than many bands of their general ilk, lyrics play a major, personal role in Royal Thunder’s songs, and matched with the musical performance, this song’s firsthand dispatch from the depths of a turbulent, defiant soul is majorly gripping. Just cracking seven minutes, it’s also the album’s longest track but unlike a few of the other lengthy jams it’s never less than thrilling. It includes some of Mlny Parsonz’ best vocalizing of an album chock full of it, and it climaxes with a blistering shriek that would make Robert Plant envious.

Josh Weaver is one hell of a maestro on those guitars of his, but one thing I’ve always loved about his playing is that he always serves the song. He never goes off on unnecessary wankoff solos or makes things more complicated and show-offy than they need to be. So you may not immediately notice what he’s doing in these songs, but trust me – it’s just right. And when he really shines, you will notice. And the drummer, Evan Diprima… which drummer is he? Third? Fourth? I sorta lost track. Anyway, dude sounds great. Actually, the whole band sorta brings to mind Soundgarden on a lot of these songs, which I’ve never really noticed before. Is that a good thing?

This is a heavy record, and it just gets heavier the further in you get. Not necessarily musically – no, in that regard, it’s a tidal thing throughout, and actually it lets up toward the end. No, it’s just heavy with dark emotion and turmoil. There’s a point a few songs in where you sorta get this suffocated feeling, like you’re just being dragged through a bog of molten tar. And that feeling doesn’t really start to dissolve until the last two or three songs. Unlike CVI, there aren’t any real fist-pumping upbeat kickass rockers that make you just drop everything to play air guitar and drums like an idiot. Well, “Time Machine” sorta comes close. But it can be a chore, making it through this whole kabob in one sitting. Overall, it’s kind of a bummer, but it’s also kind of beautiful at the same time.

Speaking of beautiful, the final song, “The Bear II,” will catch you off guard. Tender and sublimely touching, it does away with the power rock setup to only feature Mlny on piano and vocals, accompanied by a cellist. “Some will rise,” she sings softly, “some will fall. Some will run away. But I will fade and die without you….” Yeah, it’s still pretty bleak, but after 50 minutes of fury and tumult, it’s a window of peace I’ll gladly take.

Hey, it’s better than a whole album of mushy love songs, right? I hope she feels better now.

Royal Thunder
Crooked Doors